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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam ( 27 Jun 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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How Can Bida’ah Be Un-Islamic?



By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam

27 June 2013

The comments on a recent article in New Age Islam discussed Bida’ah, or innovation. The article was about Shab-e-Barat, the observance of which is opposed by the Wahabis on the grounds that this is Bida’ah.

It is strange that the Wahabis seem unaware that most of their ideology can also be termed Bida’ah. It is mainly based on the Hadees, which came over 200 years after the formation of Islam. This, of course is the most influential Bida’ah in Islamic History.

The trouble with the Wahabis is that they consider Islam purely as a pathway to Heaven. This makes them formulate the type of people who are eligible to go to Heaven. A corollary to this is the formulation of the type of people who are ineligible to have a place in Heaven. This naturally leads to the concept of ‘us’, the good guys, who will go to Heaven, opposed to ‘them’, as the bad guys who have no place there. From this point, the concept of ‘Wajib-ul-Quatl’ is probably the next step.

Considering that the Quran clearly states that this type of decision will be taken by God alone, and no one else (certainly not a panel of Wahabis), isn’t this also a case of Bida’ah?

To get around this, we should try to think about the ‘Spirit of Islam’, and the Mission of the Prophet. Everyone agrees that Islam stands for Peace. Between likeminded people, peace is no big deal. It is when there are people with radically differing viewpoints, that the peaceful way acquires significance. Thinking along these lines, one gets a glimpse of the ‘Spirit of Islam’, and why it can be said that Islam stands for Peace. Basically, that was the Mission of the Prophet. I believe that his vision of Religion was of a civilising force for the entire world. Where so many people, with so many different points of view would still be able to live together in Peace.

Looking at it from that viewpoint, the Holy Quran becomes the Basic Framework for guidance towards a civilised life. In practice, naturally there will be different interpretations depending on the differing conditions, all emanating from the same Basic Framework, The Quran.

For this to happen, innovation, or Bida’ah is absolutely necessary. It is impossible for one culture to set the rules of living for the entire world. Every attempt in that direction has blown up in the face of the would-be rulers of the world. Differences have to be respected if we are to live in peace. Bida’ah is an essential requirement for Human progress. Restrictions placed on it is probably one reason for our present backwardness.

The Quran is a living book, and like all living entities, it is constantly undergoing change. If the change stops, it will die, become a fossil, and remain the same forever. Surely we do not want such a fate for the Quran?

All occasions where people come together, be they celebrations, or funerals, all are opportunities for bonding. These are occasions that are useful for developing relationships and removing misunderstandings. All these have a civilising effect that should be appreciated, regardless of the religion or culture of the occasion. This is not banned in Islam. Muslims should join others in sharing joys and sorrows. We should all participate in festivals like Rakhi Poornima, Sharad Poornima, Budh Poornima, Christmas, New Year, Baisakhi, Pateti, etc.   After all, we address God as ‘Rabb-ul-Alameen’ – Lord of All Creation. In other words, we do not have any monopoly over The Lord. We have to share The Lord with all Creation.

As the song goes:   

“Jyot se jyot jalate chalo,           “Keep lighting one lamp from another

 Prem ki Ganga bahate chalo”    Let the river of love keep flowing”

Asif Merchant is an independent thinker, based near Panchgani, Maharashtra, India He writes an occasional column for New Age Islam.